Ah, growing up. The tugs of adulthood as you cling to those last bits of adolescent revelry; you go both kicking and screaming, but also in knowing acquiescence. On Let’s Wrestle’s debut record—the cheekily titled In The Court of The Wrestling Let’s—singer Wesley Patrick Gonzalez joked about having just enough money to “buy some G&Ts for the girls,” and crooned, “life ain’t worth living, once you get old,” over jangly, slightly distorted, up-tempo melodies reminiscent of everyone from the Kinks to the Clash. But on their second record Nursing Home, with indie-rock legend/curmudgeon Steve Albini helming the soundboard, the sophomoric naiveté that defined Let’s Wrestle begins to give way to the inevitable turn of the calendar.
Though that’s not totally clear upon first listen. Opener “In Dreams (Part 2)” finds the band in familiar territory with Gonzalez’s scrappy guitar playing gives the track a rolled-out-of-bed feel, while he tells you about fighting Pokémon (“I punched Pidgeotto right in the face,” might take top honors for best one-liner on this record) and a guy named Tony who claimed to have had sex with Queen Victoria. The equally raucous, anti-cougar anthem “Bad Mammaries” bounces and swings joyfully, and is perhaps the only song about sagging breasts that will make you want shout out loud and jump around manically (another top contender: “Aren’t you a bit wrinkled to be a nympho- / maniac?”). It’s the kind of stuff you’d expect to overhear at a bar or a high school lunchroom; but it’s not like Let’s Wrestle is afraid to get introspective. The snark-tastic “In The Suburbs” takes some not-so subtle jabs at the sheltered ennui of suburban through a narrator who’s more than happy to spend his life playing computer games and doing stupid stuff with friends. At the end of the pining “If I Keep On Loving You,” the band drops their running pop-punk hooks, and plays sweetly and softly, letting Gonzalez warble “I’ve got no time for the kids on the back of the bus / They’re not you, I want you in my room right now / Come over now.”
Supporting Gonzalez’s drunken honesty are suitably tipsy instrumentals that still manage to retain their cohesiveness, and Albini’s production adds (unsurprisingly) the most noticeable change to the band’s sound. Let’s Wrestle are louder this time around—the clean jangle of their verses often gives way to heavily amped and distorted bridges and choruses. The greatest benefactor of Albini’s production is bassist Mike Lightning, whose thundering and rolling bass lays the foundation for, and at times even seems to drive, the entire record. If 2011 marks the beginning of some sort of 90s revival, Let’s Wrestle certainly fit into that category—they tackle everything from grunge to pop punk to ballads on Nursing Home—but they get there by taking most of their cues British post-punk, 80s indie rock, and not to mention hints of Roy Orbison and his 60s contemporaries.
As rollicking as Nursing Home can be, it starts to slog about halfway through. Thrasher “Dear John” sounds like pure Albini, and seems to lack much input from the band. The next cut, “For My Mother,” is quaint, but forgettable; and it doesn’t help that the band executes that track’s soft-spoken charm much, much better on, “I Am Useful,” a gorgeous post-break up ballad of futility, insecurity, and loneliness. Let’s Wrestle are at their best on Nursing Home when the tension is visible: Whether this is the push and pull between their original sound and Albini’s influence, or the clash of Gonzalez’s casual vocals and Lightning’s roaring bass, or the juxtaposition of adolescent male recklessness with anxieties of coming adulthood. You get this a lot on Nursing Home. Perhaps not as much as one might hope, but certainly enough for Let’s Wrestle to worm their way into your head.